asked the Taoiseach if, having regard to recent events in Northern Ireland, he proposes taking any new initiatives in the area of Anglo-Irish relations; if he intends seeking a special meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference to discuss recent events; if he has made any direct contact with the British Prime Minister following the obvious deterioration of the position in Northern Ireland; if he will outline his proposals in this regard and the role he intends the Anglo-Irish Conference to play in the future.
Private Notice Questions. - Anglo-Irish Relations.
asked the Taoiseach if he will make a full statement on recent tragic and horrible events in Northern Ireland; if he will outline the steps his Government are taking to break the impasse in Anglo-Irish relations so as to ensure that political activity and progress can replace the present cycle of violence and horror; if he will begin now to take steps leading to a full Anglo-Irish summit and if, in the context of that summit, he will ensure that every co-operation is given to any and all attempts to commence dialogue between the constitutional representatives of both communities.
asked the Taoiseach whether, in view of the very serious deterioration in the security position in Northern Ireland and of the grave risk arising from increased sectarian tension, he agrees it is of the utmost importance that constitutional politicians should regain the initiative from terrorists; in particular if he will set in train an early meeting with the British Prime Minister with a view to further development of the processes of the Anglo-Irish agreement, including investigation of devolution within Northern Ireland and the establishment of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier?
Before I deal in detail with these questions I should like to put on record here the Government's total condemnation of recent atrocities, our sympathy for the relatives and friends of those killed and injured and our determination, by every means open to us, to bring violence to an end and achieve lasting peace and justice for the people of Northern Ireland.
As announced yesterday, there will be a full meeting this week of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference at which recent events and other items coming within the purview of the conference will be discussed. The Irish side at the conference will bear in mind the considerations and views expressed in this House on the recent occasions during which the situation in Northern Ireland or events connected with it have been discussed at Questions or in debates since the beginning of the year. In view of these discussions and the forthcoming meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference, I do not consider that a full debate here at present would be beneficial.
As to the question of a meeting with the British Prime Minister, the House will recall that as recently as last month Mrs. Thatcher and I had a meeting in the margins of the European Council in Brussels. The House had a fuller than usual debate on the outcome of that meeting. While I am glad to meet the British Prime Minister at any time when it is necessary or helpful, I consider that at this stage, a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference is the appropriate forum for discussing the current position, which I must emphasise has not arisen because of any actions or omissions of the Irish Government.
Finally, I know that Members of this House will agree with me in calling for calm and restraint on all sides in the present explosive situation and that everyone has a moral responsibility to refrain from doing or saying anything that might exacerbate matters or increase tension.
Does the Taoiseach accept that there is an urgent need to reestablish the role of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference as the major agency through which grievances affecting both communities in Northern Ireland and affecting the Irish and British Governments could be aired?
No, there is no need because it was never disestablished. The Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference has been meeting frequently, as often as is required, and will meet again this week.
I wish to be associated with the note of sympathy in the Taoiseach's response and, likewise, to assure him that, on behalf of the Labour Party, we would only wish to contribute to the call for calm and restraint in what is a very difficult time. Does the Taoiseach accept that at present there is an impasse in Anglo-Irish relations? If he so accepts, does he not feel that this impasse is leading to a political vacuum and that urgent action must be taken by both the Irish and British Governments?
As the Deputy knows — and most Deputies in the House are aware — following the decision by the British Attorney General in regard to the Stalker-Sampson report, I expressed dissatisfaction and I think most Members of the House agreed with me in expressing that dissatisfaction. I think Deputies would agree also that, since that decision, the situation has deteriorated by a procession of events which represented a cycle of violence and counter-violence.
The only thing I can say is that it is proposed to hold a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference this week at which all these matters can be discussed and conclusions arrived at.
Is the Taoiseach aware that, while there have been several actions on the part of the British over the last two months in particular that have caused anxiety in this country and in the House, notwithstanding those actions we are now facing a position in Northern Ireland, or more particularly the people living there, are facing a position in which anarchy appears to be breaking out, where there is a danger of widespread sectarian warfare? Could these irritants and problems that have arisen in the last two months not be put aside and the Governments of both countries come together with a view to trying to sort out the problems and take appropriate steps rather than simply relying on yet another meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference which, over the past two months, has not been successful in coping with these difficulties?
I would not close my mind to anything that might improve matters. But I would suggest to the Deputy that to have this meeting this week is perhaps the most appropriate step at this stage. Then we can see what can be done thereafter.
If progress is not seen to arise from the meeting this week, would the Taoiseach then consider approaching the British Prime Minister with a view to meeting her directly in order that everyone concerned can see that the two Governments view the present situation with the utmost seriousness and concern?
I think it would be understood by everybody that both Governments do view the present situation with very deep concern and are deeply perturbed about it. I do not rule out anything that might appear from time to time to offer the possibility of making progress, but I would not like to pre-empt the outcome of the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference meeting this week.
The Taoiseach pointed out a moment ago that he was quite prepared to bear in mind, in the course of any discussions that might take place, the various suggestions and proposals that have been made in this House in recent debates. As long ago as 17 February I made a number of proposals to the Taoiseach as to the course the Government should follow, as indeed did Deputies O'Malley and Spring. I acknowledge the Taoiseach's readiness to bear those proposals in mind. In view of what he has just said would the Taoiseach agree that, to make progress in present circumstances, it will be necessary for the British Government to approach the whole question of Anglo-Irish relations with a degree of open-mindedness, of forthcomingness, so to speak, that we have not seen in the last couple of months?
In addition, would the Taoiseach not agree that, in order to set the seal on any attitude of that kind on the part of the United Kingdom authorities, it would be necessary for the Taoiseach and the United Kingdom Prime Minister to meet and to reach conclusions together that would make a constructive contribution to the alleviation of the problem? Furthermore, would he not regard the forthcoming meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference, and perhaps additional meetings at that level, as being nothing more than the necessary preparation for the kind of meeting of minds between himself and the United Kingdom Prime Minister that constitutes the only way in which we can move forward from the present position?
I will keep the Deputy's views on that aspect in mind.
Given the Taoiseach's acceptance that a serious deterioration has taken place in Anglo-Irish relations whilst fully accepting that a summit meeting would have to be well prepared and must yield fruit, might I ask him at this time — when circumstances prevailing over the past ten days are probably more serious than any that have prevailed in the past 20 years — to take the obvious option and seek a summit meeting at the earliest possible opportunity?
I am afraid we are having repetition.
I can only repeat what I have said, that I have no wish at this stage to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting that will take place this week.
Is it not evident that the contributions by way of questions, of the leaders of Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and the Labour Party are merely a confirmation of the Taoiseach's view of not so long ago that the Anglo-Irish Agreement and its conference paraphernalia are of little benefit and that since it was instituted things have deteriorated so much that the architects of it are now calling for a summit meeting because they recognise, as the Taoiseach then did, that this conference and the Anglo-Irish Agreement are not of real benefit in solving the troubles in this country? May I further ask that in any deliberations, whether at summit level or conference level, if we can have a considered opinion arising from what I hope will be a full inquiry — and if the British do not carry out the inquiry our Government should embark upon it — into the train of events during the past eight or nine days? Many questions have been left unanswered. I do not think we will get the answers from the British, whether it be from the top, the middle or the Anglo-Irish Conference. Are we not playing around and codding ourselves that the Anglo-Irish Agreement means anything so far as the problem of violence in this country is concerned?
I answered Deputy Blaney's question about the Anglo-Irish Agreement last week and gave my views on its efficacy and its machinery. I think Deputy Blaney might agree with me that the situation at present is of such a nature and so awful in many of its implications that we should not neglect any opportunity or mechanism that might be available to us to achieve progress. I think the Deputy would also agree with me that it is only through political progress ultimately that these awful happenings can be brought to an end.
I am glad the Taoiseach has finally come to that conclusion.
On foot of what the Taoiseach said in reply to the last supplementary question, may I ask him, arising from the question put by Deputy O'Malley, if he would, within the agenda of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference, ask our British counterparts whether it is now opportune to put in place the parliamentary tier which would provide both this Parliament and the Parliament in Britain with another mechanism, to which he has just referred, that would enable the political dialogue and political process to continue?
I would not rule that out. In fact, the matter is being considered at present. I am sure the Deputy will agree with me that it is a matter that will have to be dealt with very carefully and prudently and we will have to try to ensure — and naturally I would be prepared to consult with the party leaders here — that whatever structure we devise or put in place will be an effective one.
That disposes of questions for today.